If a child goes missing today, the anguished parents can call on modern resources for help. Mobile phones, special search teams, even helicopters are all available at a moment’s notice. We can only imagine how the pioneers coped when one of their children disappeared. Among the archives at the Albertland Heritage Centre is an old exercise book which Edwin Stanley Brookes Jnr used as a scrapbook. Reading articles from the Auckland Weekly News, I came across one such story.
On February 21, 1892, Isabella Moffatt sent one of her elder daughters to the next neighbor, but as she was gone longer than usual, her brother was sent to bring his sister home. However, they didn’t know that little Mabel, aged 21 months, had followed her brother but got lost in the high ti-tree. By dusk, Isabella realised Mabel was missing so went looking for her, but the wind was very strong and although she heard the faint sound of Mabel’s voice, she couldn’t find the child.
The Moffatt property was on what is now Shegadeen Rd with a steep gully below the house. Isabella asked her neighbours to help look for Mabel but by next morning they still hadn’t found her. At daylight, word was sent to more settlers and there was soon a large party, many of them the children who knew the area well. The search started early up the valley to give its flax, toi toi and dense manuka a careful search as it was remarked that Mabel may have easily curled up one of the bushes, where two or three leaves would hide her.
About 8am cheers were heard as they had found Mabel, right up the valley, still walking and crying. Her face was black with dirt and she may have slept in some mud hole with a cold south-west wind blowing during the early part of the night. The little girl seemed no worse after her night’s sleep in the bush but the article went on to warn country settlers with young families to take be aware of the dangers. The adults had been quite sure Mabel could not be very far in the bush, but she had actually travelled more than half a mile and was still getting further away, going uphill. There’s no need to say how thankful Isabella was to have her child back, safe and well, especially as her husband was away in Auckland at the time.
The author of the article thought the children who took part in the search deserved to be named in full. They were Ada and Ben Blackburn, Winnie Brookes, George Grice, Willie Smith, Willie Moffatt and Archie Brookes. Special mention was also made of the two school teachers, Miss Currie and Miss Craig. The Moffatt home, Armitage Cottage, still stands in Shegadeen Road, Wharehine.